Richard X. Heyman is no newbie to the music scene. His first single “Vacation” was released in 1980 and, since then, his journey has found him producing genre-bending ear worms that simply work. His years of service to the industry at large, his musical talents, and his ability to captivate a person with witty banter have all made it so he is an undeniable leader. We touched on his new album Pop Circles, and are happy to have found time to sit down with him and discuss some of the finer things in life. Like working with your significant other. And cats.
There is a trend among musicians to invite guest musicians to record with them on their albums, why is it appealing to you to invite Julia and Chris to help you with some tracks on Pop Circles?
I really wanted to have real strings on the songs that had orchestration. Julia Kent is a neighbor of ours and she is a sensational cellist. She agreed to come over to our home studio (i.e., our bedroom) and lay down the cello parts. We overdubbed her several times to create a cello section. Chris Jenkins is one of the associate deans at Oberlin College, Nancy’s alma mater. We worked with him in the past and he happened to be in New York City, so he stopped by with his viola. In the end, the two of them were overdubbed as much as 17 times. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in your bedroom these days.
You are very much a one man band artist, this of course shows your immense versatility as an artist. What are the advantages and disadvantages of approach when making music/an album?
The advantage is obviously the autonomy. You can work more in the mode of a painter or a novelist. I like having that freedom to rely on my instincts and to keep moving forward through the process. On the downside, I know other musicians will have different insights and ideas that might take the music in a direction I would not have thought of. I do have Nancy there. She is a fine musician and has great ears. So between the two of us, there is a collaborative work ethic.
Tell us more about your collection of vintage instruments, which is your favourite and why you like to use them when recording?
I have two vintage drum sets – a Ludwig and a Rogers, both from the early 60’s. Fortunately, the studio where I recorded the drums (Eastside Sound) had a vintage Rogers kit, so I used that for “Pop Circles.” I have a late 70’s Fender Telecaster and a 1967 Rickenbacker 360 12-string. There are two more Ricks – a ’65 375 and ’66 335, a ’62 Hot Rod Strat reissue, a contemporary PRS Starla, a Martin Shenandoah acoustic, a Dan Electro baritone and a few other assorted instruments. We use a Dan Electro longhorn reissue bass and a Hofner single cutaway hollow body vintage bass.
You are a part of the Doughboys and the song “Why Can’t She See Me?” got voted one of the coolest songs of all time, how did that feel?
Pretty darn good.
by nancy leigh
You included five of your own versions of Doughboys tracks on Pop Circles, why did you personally choose to revisit these tracks and how do the Doughboys feel about this?
I just wanted to see how those songs would sound from the songwriter’s perspective. I don’t really know how the other Doughboys feel about them.
Herman’s Hermit’s were are an amazing band, though I may not have personally been about when they came to prominence I have heard them and adore them. How did Heyman, Hoosier and Herman happen and what did the vocals Peter Noone bring to that EP that no other artist could bring?
Peter Noone and I were on Cypress/A&M Records in the late 80’s and we got to know each other. He was interested in recording some of my songs. Unfortunately, the song he wanted to do was slated to be my next single, but eventually we got together here in New York and did that EP. Peter has an ethereal tone in his voice and an incredible range, from low baritone to high tenor. His high notes have an angelic quality and his low end has a fullness that is very appealing.
You’ve worked with a lot of your musical heroes, whom did you feel most humbled working with and what was the experience like working with them?
Each experience is different. Link Wray had the greatest guitar tone. The only way to explain it was it sounded dirty and clean at the same time. And Brian Wilson – what can you say? It’s so overwhelming, all the beautiful music that he created. Playing with Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las was a total gas. She is rock’n’roll personified and a truly nice person, very cool singer and performer.
On Pop Circles your wife Nancy plays bass for you, what other musical talents does Nancy have?
Along with being a fabulous bass player, Nancy plays guitar and keyboards. She also sings harmony as well as engineering the recordings.
And did the cats help in any way with the music of Pop Circles as a whole? ?
Their presence is felt in every note. They loved the viola and cello, though I didn’t have the heart to tell them what the strings were made from.
I love the Heymanuscripts, do you plan to write more?
Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Haven’t thought about another one, but who knows?
Thank you so much for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
I would love for people to hear the new album. It’s available on www.richardxheyman.com, and I welcome their comments about “Pop Circles.” Thanks very much!
Dead Girls Corp. recently released an album. So what’s it like? Read on and you shall discover.
The album starts with Dead Girl, the feel of the track is very much 90s metal. It has nice droning chugging guitars and potent vocals. I also like the industrial feeling you get on this one.
From The Bottom is next, this has a gorgeous old school industrial start and feel, I must admit the feel of the music is nothing new but it’s amazing just by being what it is. This track has a lot of power behind it both vocally and musically, some very nice potent and energetic drumming here.
X’s No O’s again has that classic industrial start, the music is very packed full of sound which can sometimes detract from each angle of the music but this is not a bad thing. Again this track is nothing different from the previous two tracks in any way, but the music is one you find yourself moving to.
Alleys Of Death is by far the most melodic of all the tracks so far with great placement of each part of the music, it doesn’t feel as slightly too full as the previous three tracks do. This has a cock rock feeling to the track vocally and also the way that the guitars screech.
Ask For It is really a track that has very prominent vocals and guitars, they just seem to dual with each other yet compliment each other at the time. Though at points when both are full on they tend to drown each other out somewhat which is a shame as it detracts from the feel of the song.
Flesh For Fantasy again has a cock rock feel but this time it’s melodic and very sexy, almost orgasmic industrial metal. On this track the vocals sound like a sensual but aggressive David Coverdale. I like the music on this one, the backbeat is good but the guitars seem to tell part of the story which is quite clever.
Can’t Change does what some of the other tracks on this album don’t, it harmonizes the clutter of the music. It’s full on sound but with etiquette and emotion, I do love the slight echo on the vocals here as it adds a slight excitability to the feel of the music.
Promise Me is a track that is something different to other tracks on this album, this has more a late 90’s nu metal feel yet with a more slightly classic guitar sound. It’s almost a homage to the greats of that era like Stabbing Westward as it has that slight feel to it.
VDay comes next and to me as the album is winding down then so is the music, VDay is a lot more mellow than the other tracks but yet it does slightly peak at points. It has them chugging guitars again but yet there is something about this track, so far from what I have heard VDay is my favourite so far. It’s heavy, melodic, light and a true belter of a track.
Just The Same does similar to VDay, it winds down from the other tracks. Again this track is lighter, it’s less cluttered than some of the other tracks and I must admit this one is very harmonic. It just seems to fit well together, for the first time here you can hear the bass perfectly. Liking this track a lot.
Dynamite is again quite light compared to the beginning tracks, David Coverdale esq vocals make a return here. The music ebbs and gets a bit more heavier than VDay and Just The Same but then it calms down again, I think it’s perfect for the setting lyrically here.
And last but not least we have Worth, oh the bass here is very sexy. Only issue here is at points the music becomes cluttered again which kind of spoils what is a very catchy track, it’s just a little bit too much I feel.
Overall I feel this is not a bad album but there are quite a few tracks where the music is just too full and it becomes very cluttered which detracts from the actual talent of Dead Girls Corp. As the album comes to a close the music mellows and shows the true expertise of each of the musicians, vocals are amazing but they do get overpowered by the music sometimes.
If you like decent industrial then this album is for you, it’s nothing new but it does keep alive a genre that we don’t tend to see much of these days.
Songwriter and composer Gaby Alter released his latest EP under the moniker Yes Gabriel on Friday, April 19th. His career thus far has included creating music for a variety of placement opportunities, namely Off Broadway musicals, independent films, PBS, NPR, and even Disney. With this new work comes some pretty incredible lyricism, and stunning influence peeks through as well. Read on for more in our interview with Alter.
You have a lot of musical experience, what part of your musical past brings you the fondest memories?
In my late teens and twenties, my friends and I put on a string of rock musicals in a small theatre space under a pizza parlour in Berkeley, California. We would write shows about aliens and zombies and superheroes and perform them while people upstairs ordered pizza and played video games. I got to hear songs I wrote sung by some really talented people, and the audiences–a lot of whom were our parents and friends from high school and their friends–loved the shows. That’s really when I started to write songs more seriously. Your latest EP was recorded in a friends front rooms, why did you never go into the studio? Actually it was recorded mostly in my own living room–and full disclosure, I did go to a studio one day to track a string quartet. But to answer the gist of your question, I started out thinking I was making demos that I would later re-record in a studio. At some point, I realized there was an intimacy to the songs which I was capturing with my home recordings, so I felt I didn’t need that extra step. A lot of that came down to what needed to be recorded: most of the songs are built around acoustic guitar and piano parts, which home recording captures pretty well. Drums would have required a studio because they are too complicated to record on your own, but luckily, there were no real drum parts on the album, just loops. Also, recording at home allowed me to avoid making choices under the pressure of time and money. You had no pre-determined path for the album, it just formed. What does this approach bring to the album in your mind? Stephen King says not to outline a story ahead of time, but instead to excavate it like a fossil. That way you get something that’s the most truthful and interesting, because you discover the story as you write it. So hopefully my putting one foot in front of the other, rather than having a road mapped out first, helps the listener feel like these songs have an organic cohesion with each other and within themselves. What elements of musicals lay within your debut EP? When writing lyrics for a musical, I often use specific details. They make the character singing the lyrics seem like a specific person instead of a generic one. I use those kinds of details in my songs on this album. On “Fall Asleep”, for instance: “Do you still have my shirt/the one with faded letters that didn’t quite fit?/You used to wear it when we went to bed and I’d watch you fall asleep in it.” The listener can picture those specific, visual, intimate details of a relationship, and then hopefully it becomes more real for them.
There are other kinds of story telling I use in the lyrics which I use in musical writing. Like in “Dear To Me”, where the song starts with the beginning of a relationship and ends with what happens afterwards, describing moments and details throughout. It’s a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Musicals songs often have journeys within them, where a character goes from one place to another emotionally, physically or both. Similarly, these songs trace a journey from falling in love to losing love, often within each song.
That said, these songs don’t sound like my theatre songs musically. The arrangements and mood are quieter, more internal. They’re meant to be listened to on headphones or in your car rather than in a theatre. There are a lot of details in your lyrics, why put so much details into your lyrics when so many artists keep lyrics simple? I think I answered that in my last response, so I won’t repeat myself. 🙂 To you why do the elements of folk, electronica and chamber pop work well for you? The organic sounds of folk and the artificial sounds of electronica sounds go well together because they offer a strong and satisfying contrast. Electronica adds surprise to folk, and can limit the sentimentality or conventionality of a purely acoustic folk sound. I’m drawn to those types of sounds and to artists that combine them–Sufjan Stevens, for instance, is a big influence. And chamber pop – adding orchestral instruments to a pop-style song – is obviously nothing new. The Beach Boys and Beatles did it back in the 60s. I love how much richness orchestral instruments bring to an arrangement. They’re real and alive and have a lot of emotional power.
In your mind what would be the perfect place and time to listen to your new EP? Driving in the evening when the sky is orange, or late at night. I think the subway, or an airplane would work equally well. Of all the songs on your debut EP as Yes Gabriel, which song is the most you and why? I love all my children equally. 🙂 But seriously, this is a hard one to answer. I think they are all very much aspects of me, or who I was when I was wrestling with the things I sing about on the album: longing for someone, trying to understand what love meant when a relationship is over. What do you feel has been the definitive milestones in your career as Yes Gabriel? I sent the EP to a friend of mine before it was released, and he literally woke me up at 3 am calling from the west coast to tell me how much he thought it worked. I can’t imagine a better response to the album than that. It let me know that it was really landing emotionally. What makes Friday a good day to release your EP? Why was April 19th a good time? I waited too long for certain windows, like late or early in the year, and then I heard March is a bad month to release unless you’re playing SXSW. Also, it’s a dark-hued, internal album, more appropriate to colder weather, so any later in the year and it would seem a little out of place. Thank you so much for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, is there anything you would like to add? Just a small plug for Bandcamp, where you can find my album. They are very fair to artists and support the discovery of new music. Thanks very much for interviewing me!
On April 5th, Drunken Prayer (Morgan Geer) will release his latest full-length, Cordelia Elsewhere. We took a few minutes to chat with him about his evolution as an artist, superstition, and the new album at length. Check it out below!
For everyone in Europe we find it hard to grasp the sheer size of the US, as a touring musician when you do a coast to coast tour of the USA just how long does it take and how does the touring experience differ from other countries?
It takes about 5 days to comfortably drive from coast to coast. I’ll be playing maybe 10 shows on the way to the west coast. It’ll take me about 3 weeks to get to LA from Asheville, North Carolina. In that time I’ll be stop in Austin and Albuquerque to rehearse two different groups of musicians for local shows. I could do it faster but on long tours like this it keeps me sane to stop and watch a few sunsets.
You will soon be releasing Cordelia Elsewhere, tell us a little bit about your fifth album.
I had a lot of music but the lyrics were a little shaky. After the 2016 presidential election I found a voice for the record though. This is the closest to a concept record as I’ve done in that regard. Some songs came very quickly, others, like “Rubble and Dust”, required a little thought. I go down a lot of rabbit holes lyrically and have to reel myself in sometimes.
Superstition forms part of the background behind Cordelia Elsewhere, why did you choose superstition as part of the basis of the album?
I’m not sure I consciously chose any superstitious themes. I brood on what lies behind the veil and the unexplained so it’s natural that what I write about. Some of those rabbit holes are filled with me writing without thinking and reflecting afterwards.
There are certain places in the world where superstition is something very big and they truly believe the tales, do you have a certain favourite superstition?
I think wet bread is bad luck.
I come from an Irish Catholic family – apparently you’re supposed to bury a statue of St. Joseph upside down in your yard, under the for sale sign, if you want to sell your house.
They say you should never meet your heroes, but what was it like when you met one of yours Tom Waits?
I wanted to throw up. It was surreal because it came at a time when I was listening to him more than usual. Whenever we talked I would walk away nauseous. I’ll never forget the way my name sounded coming out of his mouth. It was a peculiar feeling.
Your music keeps to them authentic American roots, what is the importance to you of keeping those roots imbedded in your music?
I don’t know that it is that important. Neither is speaking English but it’s what I know. Coming from a musical family that veers toward traditional jazz, country and blues, it’s a familiar voice that comes naturally. I try to stay insulated without isolation. It keeps me open but grounded. When I allow myself to follow every whim I turn into a gross mess.
Why have you decided to have the homesick theme in some of your songs, what makes you so good at conveying these feelings?
I grew up a little lonely sometimes. I was the only child of a single working mother and we moved around a lot. That left me with competing feelings of restlessness and a desire for a forever home. I identify with sad songs.
Why do you feel that Cordelia Elsewhere is your strongest album as Drunken Prayer to date?
It was recorded by a gifted engineer, Brian Landrum, and mixed by the great Mitch Easter from Let’s Active. We played the songs one after the next in a one room backyard studio with only necessary overdubs. The songs on this one came pretty easily all in all as well. That’s usually a decent barometer. When I have to labor too hard over something, it usually sounds fussy. I don’t think it’s a cluttered record.
The whole way in which artists make music and how people buy and listen to music has changed drastically technologically both for the good and the bad. Do you as an artist embrace that technology or do you prefer the older ways, and why?
More and more songs are heard as singles, separated from the album, like the early 45s. That idea has kind of come full circle now that you can upload singles directly to online distributors like CDBaby. I like good sequencing so I tend to buy entire albums, usually vinyl records. Not because they sound better – I’d never know the difference on my cheap system – but I like the machinery and the tactile quality of 12” records and the big art.
Also with the technology comes freedom for you as an artist, long gone is the time when a record label tells you what to do. What do you think are the negatives of this on the music industry as a whole?
There’s a lot more noise to sift through. I use streaming services, especially on tour, but sometimes listening to music in my bubble or personalized playlists gets old. A good radio station is a curator you can trust.
Every place has a different feeling musically, but yet your music is American. Are there certain songs which musically it could come from a certain place in America and if so which songs?
“Four Leaf Clover” started off more as a cajun song. It’s some of the prettiest music there is.
“Rubble and Dust” reminds me of the desert even though it name drops Bend, Oregon. It ended up with what I’d consider a Topanga Canyon sound. That was a happy accident.
Your father and your mother father played Jazz and Dixieland, how has this affected you musically?
For as many generations as anyone can recall, everyone on my mother’s side was some sort of musician. So being a musician of any level of success was an honorable pursuit. There was a point when I thought about maybe going into theology or law but it seemed wrong not to follow the musical wind at my back.
Thank you so much for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, anything you would like to add?
If you go down to the woods today, you better not go alone.
Cole Guerra has crafted a sound that balances on the edge between progressive rock and pop with latest project I Am Casting, a musical entity we have been captivated by since premiering “Clay” last year. Amidst the release of the project’s debut album, we got a few minutes to sit down and dig in with Guerra on everything music. Check it out below!
There was a time when you were studying and performing, were there any points where the focus of your studies intermingled with your song writing?
That period was well before writing any of the songs on Carnival Barkers. The overlap would have occurred primarily during the writing of an album called Scarves & Knives, which I put out under my own name years ago. I don’t believe that the focus of my studies really made its way into contemporaneous songwriting material, though I can look back and recognize that I was, at times, working some psychological stuff out (about myself) through my lyric writing.
On the other hand, my exposure during grad school and beyond to issues central to clinical psychology and social psychology has pretty clearly influenced my lyrics over the past couple years, while writing the tunes on Carnival Barkers.
Does your background in psychology help when writing lyrics?
In general, I’m sure that the psych background funnels me towards certain subject matter, even if I’m not altogether deliberate or conscious about this, and that it then informs the perspective I have on the chosen subjects. The psych background definitely influenced how I approached the material on Carnival Barkers. It was 2016 when I began working on the album, and from the start of lyric-writing I knew my framework was to write a collection of tunes that would observe, from various angles, something about the psychology of the political moment. Most of the songs offer a take on toxic influencers and/or their impact, both on those who ‘buy in’ to the message and those who do not. For example, I think of ‘Wolf’, ‘Charmer’, and ‘Lullaby’ as Pied Piper-like riffs, thematically. I view ‘Helpless’, ‘Muggers’, and ‘Seams’ as fragments of possible responses by those upended and left feeling powerless in the wake of a malignant carnival barker. ‘Flood’ and ‘Window’ are songs about the political exploitation of fear and prejudice.
Carnival Barkers will soon be released, “Flood” was the first single released from your new album. What is the background behind “Flood”?
‘Flood’ was one of the first songs written for Carnival Barkers – it was penned in mid-2016. During the run-up to the election, I was disgusted, like many, by how often Trump negatively framed non-white and non-European populations and made racial and ethnic distinctions increasingly salient. He was explicitly signalling to his political base that they should care about race and ethnicity differences, and that those outside their racial and ethnic ingroups (here’s the social psychology influence I referenced above) were clear threats. In essence, he seemed to have a strategy of stoking and then exploiting people’s fears about those in outgroups. We’ve seen this play out over the past couple years – in, for example, the alarmism about the “Caravan” or with the just-declared “national emergency”. ‘Flood’ tries to get at aspects of this, as does the song ‘Window’.
The video for “Flood” used footage of historical events that ties into the song, of the footage you used which part sums up “Flood” the most?
The juxtaposition of (a) clips from a 1957 promo piece by Redbook magazine that depicted tranquil white suburbia with (b) clips depicting the aggression and hostility of white women and men towards the Little Rock Nine during that same year.
After Scarves & Knives you kind of disappeared, what were you doing in that time?
At the time of releasing Scarves & Knives, and then touring in support of it, I was ‘on leave’ from my clinical psychology program. I had a decision to make after touring – do I finish the degree or commit full-time to music? I was invested in both possible paths and knew I wanted to wrap up the doctoral degree and keep the door open to becoming a practicing psychologist. I re-engaged in the grad program, which was a pretty immersive thing involving dissertation writing and clinical work, followed by an internship and subsequent ‘post-doc’ experience. After that, I jumped into developing my clinical psychology practice. During that stretch, whenever I tried to write music, it just felt kind of painful – like if I couldn’t do it full-on, why bother? Hard to explain, really. I somehow ended up going years without doing anything music-related. Most of that time, I didn’t even touch a guitar or keyboard. It wasn’t until 2016 that I began writing again.
Is there any overall advantage from working primarily from your home studio?
Yes, absolutely, especially as I’ve come to view tracking itself as an important part of my songwriting process – things are pretty iterative at this point, so I benefit from having the ability to easily go in and adjust, rinse, repeat, etc. I guess I could just call what I end up with a ‘demo’ and then go to a full-fledged studio, but the home studio is sufficient for me to obtain most of what I’m after – there are exceptions, and I did leave the home space to record some stuff.
What element of Carnival Barkers are you most proud of and why?
Probably that it feels like an album. There are thematic threads that connect the tunes, as I was describing earlier, and I think there are musical threads that do the same (arrangement choices, tonally coherent). Hopefully, if a listener takes in the full LP in a single gulp, there is a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” type impact.
You studied piano as a child, how did this set you up musically for your future musical endeavors?
I’m sure that early exposure to an instrument was one of the things that contributed to a love of music, along with extensive music-listening as a young kid. I’m also pretty sure that playing the piano made it easier to learn and play the guitar, which I picked up just after high school. This is conjecture, but maybe the most significant impact of playing an instrument as a young kid was that it introduced me very early on to the idea that one’s experience with music can be that of an active participant.
What was it about Richard Buckner’s Since that captivated you so much?
Just about everything, really. Chord progressions and melodies that grabbed me immediately and then somehow continued to grow on me after a ridiculous amount of spins. The sound itself – dry vocal upfront, immersive + emotional musical beds. The tunes cohere as an album, and yet there is a great amount of variability in song tempos, tone, structure, and length. I usually don’t weigh lyrical content that greatly in my music preferences, but Buckner’s lyrics on Since are just incredible. And lastly, the tunes seemed so specifically him – I didn’t have a clear sense of ‘influences’.
Since also introduced me to the work of producer and bassist JD Foster, who had produced the LP as well as Bucker’s preceding album, Devotion & Doubt. A few years after the release of Since, I invited JD to a show I was playing in NYC – the conversation with JD after that gig eventually led to the making of Scarves & Knives.
Why did it take a text from Ian Schreier to get you making music again, had you not thought of your music before that point?
There was something motivating about re-engaging with people I’d worked on music with in the past – Ian had mixed Scarves & Knives and been involved in some of the recording as well. Also, quite frankly, it was probably that the messages from Ian over a couple months, along with some other input from musicians I respect a lot, helped to build up some lost confidence. The initial communication from Ian led to a couple meetings at the studio where he typically works, and to me taking a plunge on buying some home recording software/hardware – I’d never had any recording gear previously.
When creating music for Carnival Barkers it was the lyrics that came second, what is your usual creative process of writing?
Lyrics have always come relatively late in the process for me. Frankly, as a listener, the music (the chord progression, the melody, the texture/sound/feel, etc.) speaks to me far more than does any lyric. A bad lyric can put me off, but I’ll listen to a great-sounding tune with middling lyrics. A good lyric is like a bonus of sorts, icing on the cake.
Though I’ve always written music before lyrics, the creative process did change quite a bit for Carnival Barkers. Prior to CB, I’d write the progression + melody + lyric while sitting with a guitar or at the piano, and think about arrangement and texture after the song was, in essence, ‘done’. With CB, the home recording setup and software enabled me to write and record percussion (and other) parts in tandem with the keys or guitar, and the rhythm and ‘texture’ tracks ended up influencing my progressions and melodies to a degree I never would have predicted – I really prefer this newer approach. As I start playing with a vocal melody over a progression I’ve already written and recorded, a lyrical idea or theme will sort of emerge – usually a phrase or two grab me and then I shape the remaining lyric accordingly.
Thank you for giving Imperfect Fifth this interview, is there anything you would like to add?
No, other than thanks for expressing interest in the album!
Southern California-based psych/folk musician Elizabeth le Fey has been making beautiful strides with her music under the moniker Globelamp. We’ve been bedazzled by her presence ever since 2014’s Star Dust entered our lives, and watching that progression has been an absolute pleasure over the years. Luckily enough, we got a few minutes to speak with the masterful le Fey about her music, and we also got a few other fun questions in.
Romantic Cancer is your most stripped down album to date, why did you decide on this for your third release?
I wanted to finally put an album out that sounded closer to how I sound live. When I perform live, I play alone. Although I love experimenting in the recording studio, I thought it would be good for Globelamp to have an album in my discography that was true to what the roots were of my music making – guitar, piano, and me.
You recorded Romantic Cancer in Bohemesphere Studios not far from Woodstock, which is a name synonymous with music. Did any element of Woodstock appear in your music?
Yes I think the elements of Woodstock were in my music even before I went there so it was extra cool to be inspired by the actual location of Upstate NY. Growing up, there is so much mythology around Woodstock that if you are a musician, you probably have romanticized it.
Your new album focuses on how we pull ourselves back together again after a breakup, how would you hope this would help and inspire people who are just going through a breakup?
I hope this album would encourage people to love again even if they have been hurt before. I hope I’m not the only one who relates to the emotional low of “lowest low” haha. I think that sometimes you don’t realize you are romantic until you date someone who is afraid of romance or love. Or maybe you are that person who fears love because of fear of abandonment or hurt. This album could be for either person in that scenario – the hopeless romantic – or the closed off emotional shell who secretly longs for love.
How did Romantic Cancer lead on from The Orange Glow?
The Orange Glow in my mind is more a psychedelic dark forest fairy tale. Romantic Cancer is more of a journal entry exposed.
You are a fan of British folk music of the 60’s, what is it about the music of that era and place that influence you so much?
I think I love the minimalism of it and the raw talent that was around in that time period. Now people can hide behind so many effects in music, it’s hard to tell who is actually creating what. I love the British folk music of the 60’s and how they tell stories and create a whimsical atmosphere with their words and phrasing.
You recorded a few songs on Romantic Cancer in just one take, what was it about the song and the emotion of the song that felt right on the first take?
I think it’s because I had practiced the songs so many times and envisioned how they should sound so it was easy to just bust some of the songs out. Of course people recording with you always want to add more, but in my mind, I already knew what some of these songs sounded like and I had a very clear vision of it. There is something powerful in recording one take of a song when you just KNOW you got it.
Why was love such an important subject for your new album?
Because I used to think that showing emotions and being vulnerable was weak but these last few years I realized that it is actually strong to say how you feel – because most of the time people can relate to those things the most. We all know what it feels like to fall in love or get our heart broken.
James Felice joined you on Romantic Cancer, what was it like to work with him as you are a fan of his music?
It was amazing and a total honor. I am a huge fan of the Felice Brothers and I think James Felice is so talented and he is also a sweetheart. I love the additions he added to the album. I can’t even imagine “Blinded” or “Black Tar” without him now.
When you wrote “Blinded” you wanted it to have a synth-pop sound, now I’m a big fan of synth-pop so what bands would have influenced you?
Hmmm I’m not really sure. 80’s stuff and the song “I wish You would” by Taylor Swift. Kinda a random answer but the backup vocals on I wish you would made me want to write a song like that (didn’t happen) but I kept imagining the vocals on “blinded” going “you and me you and me” over and over again the way Taylor goes, “I Wish I I I wish I II wish II I wish you would”
You speak a little bit of German and have visited Germany, what is it about Germany that is so magical or draws you there?
I guess their creepy history and the actual land, it feels magical. Growing up I always thought German was the ugliest language and had no desire to visit Germany, but after being there, I changed my mind. My uncle is a professional trumpet player in the Bonn Symphony Orchestra so I have had the pleasure of spending a good chunk of time in the country. I have always been fascinated by fairy tales and the Grimm’s fairy tales are German. When I was a student at The Evergreen State College I also took a course called “Blood and Beauty; the study of Germanic paradoxes of their love of mystery and order”. It was a really intense class. I love how Germany is helping the refugees from Syria, especially with the German’s dark past. My uncle has a whole Kurdish family from Syria living with him. They have their own house on his property. I feel very blessed that I was able to become such good friends with the Kurdish family. Since none of them could speak English, I had to get better at German. I actually wrote a song about them, and refugees in general, that I cut from Romantic Cancer. It didn’t fit the theme and I plan to put on the next album.
What do you feel is your most ethereal song you have ever written?
Wow hard question. I guess it matters if I am performing it or listening to a recorded track. Faerie Queen?
What do you feel are the most important elements of your music?
Run Tiny Human is your 8th album with Jeff Stuart Saltzman, what makes the musical relationship between you and Jeff last so long?
Rachel: When you work with someone for that long–especially on something so personal as your own music–you’ve both seen one another at your very best and very worst. It’s intense, recording an album. And we’re both kind of intense, very opinionated people, on top of that.
I learned to trust Jeff. We became very good friends at some point, but even early on, he won my trust because he was clearly not one to b.s. or throw compliments around. I could tell I’d get the truth out of him–he’s brutally honest, though not in a mean way. He can’t help it. I tend to like people like that. Critical, but not cruel. And unstinting with honest praise. And he wanted to help me to get to what I want–not what he wanted, though his contribution to my records is vast and invaluable.
We’ve been working together long enough that we have a kind of shorthand, now. We know each other, and he really knows my music and the way I work–the way my mind works and the way I actually like to work while recording. I become aware, working on Run Tiny Human, that Jeff’s been very observant and made a lot of changes over the years in working with me, on the process, based on his observations–trying to go with my flow and make it easier for me. It’s not always easy with two such strong-willed people in a room, but I rely on him to give it to me straight, and he has never failed.
Many artists have contributed on Run Tiny Human from some amazing bands, who were they and what was it about their style that fit so well with your sound?
Rachel: Ben Landsverk (Wonderly, Hawks & Doves, OK Chorale) is a dear friend and has been playing with me for many years, now. When we met we were singing a concert of Bach and Charpentier for Trinity Consort, which is weird to think about, now! We discovered one another’s other musical lives and we started playing together in a few bands. Ben’s my righthand man–he does everything. He’s a super quick, versatile singer with a freakish range (it’s just him and me, multi-tracked and asthmatic, singing that backup on Wedding Song/Bag of Bones), he can play anything–viola, bass, guitars, keys, percussion–and he’s just beautifully musical. He makes everything seem so easy, but it’s not.
Jeff Langston (Antony and the Johnsons, Mo Phillips) is in my band and has also become a treasured friend. He grew up in Oregon and moved back from NYC with his wife and son a few years ago. We met backing up a mutual friend for a radio show. Jeff’s an incredibly sensitive player–he pays attention more closely than almost anyone I know to what’s happening musically, and he always tries to serve that. He’s been a real stalwart for me–a total pro and supportive in myriad ways.
Leigh Marble (Leigh Marble) has also been in my band for years now and is a well-regarded songwriter/performer and also a great friend of mine. I like the way Leigh thinks, and I like the way he plays guitar. He can get a very raw sound and he’s never noodly–doesn’t overplay. He makes interesting choices and he’s way more fun to watch play than I am!
Justin Harris is a good friend of Jeff’s and a friend of mine, too. He happened to be in town between tours with Bloc Party and kindly came over and played bari sax and bass on Gitcher. He and Danny Seim (Menomena) played on a coupla songs on my album World So Sweet. What I had him doing on Gitcher was incredibly repetitive but Justin’s got a loose, kind of loopy way of playing that I really like, and it gives life to the repeated bits.
Joe Mengis (Eels) and Mark Powers (Robert Wynia) were both suggestions of Jeff’s–he’d worked with both of them right before we started recording. Both are pros and lovely people. Mark is a fiend at anything you set before him–no limits. And Joe took a very weird, counterintuitive request from me and hit it out of the park.
Katie Taylor (Opera Theater Oregon) is my sister, who also does the graphics for my albums, and who is my guinea pig whenever I’m writing songs. I can sing a harmony or melody or whatever to her and she can immediately sing it back. Katie’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever known, and we’ve sung together forever. She sings in the choir on “Heir Apparent” and “Yourself/You Reprise.” That’s her doing the high “C” on Heir (if you can hear it!).
Lisa Stringfield-Prescott (Ages and Ages) is a prized friend who was in the bands Carmina Piranha and Carmina Luna. She’s sung on several of my albums and I love the quality of her voice, and her stage presence. Lisa’s also been a huge support over the years–I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Jim Brunberg (Box Set, Wonderly, Roam Schooled) is a friend and I asked him and his daughters, Dana and Vern, to come sing on a track. Jim’s a truly great musician and one of those people who can sing anything in any range, so I grabbed him. Jim’s also been a good friend to me and my music.
Phil and Gayle Neuman (De Organographia) have played on, I think, four of my albums, now? They’re specialist on Renaissance and Baroque (and some ancient) instruments. They are famous in those circles–hence their playing on the Ben Hur remake soundtrack. 🙂 They’re good friends of mine and can play any instrument, and their collection of instruments–most of them made by Gayle and Phil–is awe-inspiring!
Jeff Stuart Saltzman (Cerebral Corps, Sunset Valley) I talked about already….but not many know he’s a great musician and songwriter. I exploit Jeff’s musical talents for all I’m worth when we’re recording–he’s very handy. That’s him muttering on “Gitcher,” at my request.
How did you interpret what your mind was thinking about the world in to a lyrical and musical form?
Rachel: I don’t know! I don’t really think about it so clearly when it’s happening. Ideas just knock around and then they come out. I’ll get up and go record them, I’ll get up and go to the piano, I’ll write down a lyric. It all kind of comes together when you look at it as a whole, later. Then, I see the pattern and where my brain was dwelling.
I personally love the idea behind Little Gyre, can you tell us more about that specific song?
Rachel: I was lying in bed, half awake, and I don’t know what prompted the thought but I started thinking about the junk in space peering down at the ocean garbage (the Pacific Garbage Gyre). Garbage high, garbage low! I have no idea why I thought I might want to write a song about that. I got down (on digital recorder) what I was thinking and I went to sleep. When I worked on it later in my typical misty fashion, the space garbage began to morph into a kind of stalkerish entity, obsessing over the ocean garbage. In the end, it breaks orbit to fall into the sea. I feel bad for the ocean garbage (forgive me, ocean garbage)…
I think this came from my almost constant stewing over climate change and our fucked over world. I am chock full of Apocalypse.
When do you feel was the era when Americans had sense and at what point do you feel it started to get crazy?
Rachel: I keep coming back to the FDR era (for sense), and that’s a sad thought because it was so long ago. But one of the things I most admire about that era is the community-mindedness, as opposed to the lunatic focus on the individual in the America of now. Americans are so belligerently self-serving now, nothing gets done. It’s literally impossible for so many hellbent “individuals” to pull together. We all want what we want when we want it, and we all deserve it, and damn you to hell if you get in the way of what I want, cuz I got muh rights!
I think the ’60s and ’70s took a kind of latent, inbred American crazy and tipped it into overdrive, what with the whole “reality is subjective” thing, the questioning of fact and truth, etc., coloring it all relative, nothing tethered to anything real anymore, just free-floating bullshit. An early triumph for the wretched Cult of the Individual.
Kurt Andersen wrote a wonderful, horrifying book called Fantasyland; How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History. He posits that we started out crazy–that the people who settled America set the groundwork for the crazy. And I think he’s right–I think Americans from the get-go regarded themselves as exceptional and that that, unfortunately, has stuck and transmogrified into something truly sick–what we have now. I like how a reviewer of Andersen’s book put it (Hanna Rosin): “Fake news. Post-truth. Alternative facts…. The country’s initial devotion to religious and intellectual freedom, Andersen argues, has over the centuries morphed into a fierce entitlement to custom-made reality. So your right to believe in angels and your neighbour’s right to believe in U.F.O.s and Rachel Dolezal’s right to believe she is black lead naturally to our president’s right to insist that his crowds were bigger.”
The Reagan years were another milestone of crazy, of a different sort. The onset of the GOP’s ever-so-patient-and-deliberate, decades-long Grand Plan of Selfishness–deregulation, the handing over of America to corporate interests, circling the wagons, the insistence on America First!… all wrapped up in shameful jingoistic posturing, one hand waving a flag and the other taking your wallet. USA! We had gone from the heartening scenario of the gas crisis in the Carter years, which is, I think, the last true example of Americans actually acting with a sense of pulling together. They did real things, made real (if not great) sacrifices–drove less, got smaller, more gas-efficient cars, etc. It almost seems mythical to me when I think about it now, because everything around us (climate change, for one) dictates bigger sacrifices and changes than we successfully effected back then; only today’s Americans do exactly the opposite of what is required–buying bigger bigger BIGGER vehicles, traveling/flying more, ordering more shit from Amazon, building bigger homes, getting bigger appliances, sucking up more resources and eating everything in sight. That those Keurig machines could even exist in this day and age boggles the mind. Americans, of course, love them.
What is your own favourite part of American history and what makes it special to you?
Rachel: Well, this is cheating on the question a little, but I’d sure like to see pre-Columbian America, mainly so I could see what nature–flora and fauna and sea–was like, pre-trampling and despoiling. I know big civilizations already existed with the tribes, and land clearing was happening even then. But–as far as I know–First Peoples weren’t hunting things to extinction or extracting/cutting/plundering nearly so well as later peoples did. I’d love to see my own region (Pacific NW/US) when the forests were full of gigantic trees, and that dense forest floor. I’d like to see the land and all the creatures, the ocean and all its creatures, breathe the air. I’d really like to see it all pre-people, actually. The answer, therefore, to “what would make it special to me” is: no people at all. 😉
I’ve heard you are a fan of BBC costume dramas, which is your favourite one and why? Also if you could star in one of them then which character do you think suits you as a person?
Rachel: OOOHhhhh! So many! So many! I do love a good costume drama! And the BBC really does do them best. 🙂 Gah, how to choose? Faves include: Jane Eyre (1983–I’m a purist–but I do like the 2006 version–Ruth Wilson is the only actress I’ve seen who approaches the greatness of Zelah Clarke’s Eyre); The Forsyte Saga; The House of Eliot; Our Mutual Friend; Middlemarch. But I’d have to pick either Persuasion (1995) or Pride and Prejudice (1995–wow! That was a good year!) for my absolute favorites. I have watched those too many times to count. If I could star in one, which character suits me?… hmmm. I’d like to think I’m Lizzy Bennet, but I’m probably more Mr. Rochester. 😉 NOTE TO THE BBC: Please make Villette!
For the majority of your life you have lived in Portland, what is it about Portland that keeps you there?
Rachel: Ugh. Nothing, anymore. I and mine and my sister moved out a year ago because we couldn’t take living there anymore. It’s changed so drastically over the past 10-20 years, it’s unrecognizable…so depressing. I went through a long period of frantically dragging my poor husband all over town to try to escape the awfulness (constant construction/overdevelopment/razing, decades of it now; increased crime; tagging, garbage, lines and cars everywhere; displacement; pollution; soaring prices; noise; and some really up-their-own-asses new residents hashtag NOT ALL NEW RESIDENTS) and find peace. Alas, it was not to be had, so we finally got out. I only wish we’d done it sooner. I feel like I was in mourning for my city for the past decade plus. I felt like a stranger there in my hometown, my lifelong home. By the time we left, I didn’t care anymore what happened to it. Just exhausted and sad. It has been “loved” to death death death.
Can you please tell us of your aunt Mette who formed inspiration for one of your songs on your album Half Hours With The Lower Creatures?
Rachel: I don’t remember much about her because I was so little when she was still alive. I never met her in person. But she corresponded with me from Madagascar, where she was a missionary. I remember writing to her and I remember her spidery handwriting–she was very very old when she was writing to me. She was from Norway. I would give anything to be able to talk to her now.
Can you remember the first demo tape you ever did? How did it feel to hear your music recorded for the first time?
Rachel: My brothers and sister and I recorded ourselves doing stupid shite, growing up, so I was pretty familiar with the sound of my own voice. My husband bought me a Tascam Porta 05 when I was in my twenties, not long after we married, and that was a turning point–he made me start to take my songwriting more seriously. It was so wonderful to be able to record multiple tracks, because I’d been using two tape machines to do that! Going back and forth until things got faster and faster and higher and higher, hah! Anyway–it was a great spur to creativity and made my brain just GO. I really loved it.
I think I just felt….satisfied, when I first heard my music recorded. And also twitchy and dissatisfied, because there are always things you wish you’d done differently. But I generally self examine as I go along with a ruthless rigor that prevents (most) later regret. If I don’t like something, I can always tell, and I’m not shy about changing it. I follow my gut and my ear. That’s a weird visual…
You put your all into your music, it’s all you. You do everything yourselves with no other input from anyone. What is the importance of this to Filmspeed, to do everything yourselves?
Filmspeed: As indie artists? It’s everything. We’re in a modern industry that lives and dies by the innovation of musicians. Time, budget, schedules- these are all things you’ve got to constantly balance. The more we can do internally as a unit, the better chance we have at long term survival, and with any luck, success.
You thrive on the live experience, describe your typical emotions and feeling when you are all on stage?
Filmspeed: Its the rush. Its the purpose. Its home. A live audience is our drinking buddies, our close friends. It’s not quite the same to type it out in words. Its those moments where a whole room gets together and collectively loses their minds if only for a split second.
You hail from Orange County, I don’t know Orange County but I do know that rock and roll is everywhere and at it’s heart. How does Orange County reflect in your music?
Filmspeed: Well… although we live and work in OC and around Los Angeles. The soul of the music is directly channeled from the Motor City, Detroit. Nick and Craig are born and raised with the whole family still living there. “You gotta lose your mind in Detroit, Rock City”. Over the years though Orange County has sprinkled in refinement, professionalism, and tripled down our drive and passion. In a place where the weather is always great, it means we can gig 7 days a week.
You have your own podcast, so tell us more about it. Why did you decide to do the podcast and apart from the music what is all your artistic input into your podcast?
Filmspeed: Well it’s a recent development for us. We actually wanted to get much more candid with our fans. Since theres so many outlets for bands to reach people, (social media, gigs, albums, etc.) we wanted to peel back the curtain and have folks get to know us on a friend-level. So the podcast, “Consistently Off” is really just a recording of the 3 of us catching up for the week and whatever rants ensue thereafter.
Not good to hear about the break in to your rehearsal space guys, how did this make you feel and has it stopped you from doing what you do so well musically?
Filmspeed: Yeaaa, thanks so much! We appreciate the wishes. Being on the losing end of thievery is never great. Immediately following though, our close friends and fans all jumped into action. GoFundMe accounts were opened, plans were made, and guitars were replaced all without our knowledge. A few days of sorrow for sure, but instantly being reminded that we are loved, supported and respected is more than a fortunate turn; its fuel to put the pedal down and take this thing to the top!
Tell us a little more about Beer 4 Boobs, I personally take my hat off to you gentlemen for doing this but please tell the world more about the whole event?
Filmspeed: These events are always a privilege. Its not even a soft spot for us, it’s a requirement. Everyone has had their lives affected by cancer, most recently, both Nick and Craig had parents taken by cancer. Cancer benefits will be on our show schedule as long as folks ask us to appear.
Loving the Cold As Ice cover guys, what made you want to officially cover Foreigner then do a phone video of it?
Filmspeed: Hey thanks! Its all about thinking “outside the box”, as you can probably tell from the video, we didn’t take it too seriously. Best part is that all our closest friends got together for a night of laughs and drinks. In our opinion, theres no better way to make a music video.
Purple Rain, great choice of film and it’s soundtrack, can you all tell me your favourite films that have just as good soundtracks apart from Purple Rain?
Filmspeed: Sh^ttt manggg… theres no better production. That’s prime Prince. Better than that? Let’s put a small vote in for “Team America: World Police”, there’s a genuine brilliance to that whole work of art.
It’s time to go Hexadecimal, it’s time for you to have a great big plug of the great musical wonder that is Hexadecimal. Time for you to tell all Wicked Spins Radio readers and also their listeners (Will be plugging it on my show) all about Hexadecimal. AND 3….. 2….. 1…. GO
Filmspeed: ATTENTION ALBUM LOVERS! Repeat! ATTENTION ALBUM LOVERS: We have self-produced, full length album that covers over 2 years worth of material. It spans a massive range of stories, moods and energies. It is non-stop sound, filled with interludes and segues. It’s a record that you’re encouraged to press play and strap in for the ride.
Arriving at the venue I didn’t know what to expect, I was very familiar with Frozen Nation’s music. I should be, Alteria Anarchy was the first radio show to air Frozen Nation’s first single I Failed for you and I was the first journalist ever to interview them. I had become very good friends with Idris but this is the first time I would have met him in the flesh. The venue itself was a very artistic place, one side where the music happened and the other a very arty bar.
The first person who I met and recognised was Moss, the frontman of Frozen Nation. A tall handsome man who when I said Moss I’m Phill his face lit up and I was greeted with a big hug for a welcome. Frozen Nation are one of the very few bands I have a very close affinity to, a band like only a couple more that I have seen grow and followed. It felt like meeting someone I have known all my life but yet I was meeting in the flesh for the first time. After Moss greeted me he introduced me firstly to my great friend Idris of whom again I was met with a big hug and a smile, then to Dorian of whom I had never actually spoken to but yet he like Moss and Idris just seemed like part of my extended family.
As the night rolled on Idris, Moss and Dorian were there making sure we had a great night. They introduced us to people and the whole air of the gig was very much a personal one, to say we were made welcome is truly the understatement. It was a perfect night with great friends, but to my honour my great friends were also the headline band. Dorian chatted to me and told me the very intricacies of the music and told me stories of Elvis. Me being a Jethro Tull fan I was wowed by this.
Swan Death came on and they were very Goth Rock in style, their style mixed with their visuals blended well and was a great opening act.
Perverted By Language had more an attitude, slightly punkish and again really great live.
But I was waiting, waiting to see my friends, the headline band. The lights were dim and then the music started and so did the visuals in the background. As the music began the crowd just started to move. I had listened to Dark Belgian Disco so many times so when I heard Genghis Khan my body also started to instinctively move, the music just put you under a spell and you just couldn’t help yourself. Then in the background the silver spinning disco ball led to the title track of Frozen Nation’s album, Dark Belgian Disco which was played with perfection.
I personally was waiting for one song, the song that has been on my alarm since the first day I heard it. The song people have heard so much on Alteria Anarchy, my favourite song. And as I heard the start of I Failed For You, Idris shouted “This is for you Phill”, to say this was a true honour was an understatement. One of my favourite bands, my friends, dedicate my favourite song to me was just unbelievable. I couldn’t help myself move and then following I Failed For You was Come On To The Ride which is another song that is just so funky with such a great feeling.
As they played more yet another familiar favourite played, Give Me The Perfect Song. I was singing and dancing, I just couldn’t stop myself and neither could the people at the gig. Then followed Alone In Berlin, I couldn’t believe just how much perfection had been given to us. I love the sound of Frozen Nation, it’s just pure and funky. Dark but yet the lights shinning from that disco ball just shine brightly.
The night ended and I couldn’t thank Idris, Moss and Dorian enough. We had a long day so that’s where the night ended for me, but that’s not where this story ends.
The day after we met Frozen Nation, they took us to this amazing Belgian restaurant and treated us to lunch and beer. We just chatted more about the music of Frozen Nation. Dorian, Idris and Moss were just so passionate about their music and from what I heard & felt from the gig it shows. The guys spoke and Dorian said “Would you like to see our studio, would you like to meet Elvis?”, how could I refuse? After a pleasant walk through the streets of Brussels with the guys showing us the wonderful sights and telling us the stories and folklore of where we were walking we arrived at the studio. I was in awe, all the old analogue equipment that gave Frozen Nation their unique and wonderful sound. Dorian showed me where they record and how they do it, then in a smaller noise proofed room there he was there was Elvis. Dorian told me how they use him and how he is just like a person and the stories that made him feel that way.
We sat and chatted more, Idris and Dorian stayed in the studio to do a little work and Moss took us for a beer before we had to leave. Big hugs from Idris and Dorian, I felt sad in a way as I was leaving two of my close friends. We left for the pub with Moss. Nice beer too, traditional Belgian beer. Well you can’t go to Brussels without tasting the amazing beer now can you? As the time came close that we had to leave to come home Moss even walked with us to the tram station. We bought tickets and with one last hug from my friend Moss we were on our way.
The whole experience is one I will never forget, Frozen Nation themselves and the wonderful city of Brussels. I cannot thank my friends Idris, Moss and Dorian for an amazing weekend and for the amazing music. Thank you for letting me introduce the world to that wonderful Dark Belgian Disco sound and also for your friendship.